Volume 7, Issue 3
December, 16 2011


Welcome to the twenty-first issue of "Heavy Metal" -- the newsletter of the

Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles (VMMV.) Our mission is our motto -- by working to restore armored fighting vehicles, artillery, small arms, uniforms, and accoutrements of the US military and other countries, we hope to share the legacy of the sacrifice and courage of our fighting men and women with future generations of Americans. Located in Northern Virginia, our collection has grown to over 90 vehicles, starting out with the first US tank, the M 1917 through such legendary US vehicles as the M4A1 and M4A3 Sherman , M3A1 and M5A1 Stuart , M24 Chaffee , M3A1 Half-track , M36 Jackson and M3 Lee along with a few vehicles you might not know existed -- such as a prototype of the Rapid Deployment Force (RDF) tank.

Get to know your VMMV staff & vehicles

In this section we introduce you to the people and armor of the Virginia Museum of Military Vehicles. We will chat with the VMMV staff, so that you can get to know the people who "keep 'em running" and work so hard behind the scenes. And also provide a behind-the-scenes look into the history of individual vehicles in the VMMV collection. In this, our twenty-first newsletter, we highlight one of the most iconic tanks of all time present in VMMV’s arsenal.…the M4A3 Sherman of our headline paragraph.


The genesis of the Sherman M4A3 began in late 1941 when a search for new power plants for the Sherman tank series led the Ford Motor Company to modify one of their experimental eight-cylinder aircraft engines for use in a tank. The gasoline-powered engine made 500 horsepower (HP) and went 85 hours on the test stand in its first running, demonstrating high reliability.

The US Army quickly realized the high power output, compact design, and excellent power-to-weight ratio of the new engine—designated the Ford GAA—and the Ordnance Committee in January 1942 authorized the Ford engine for use in the Sherman. The new tank variant was designated the M4A3 and was destined to soldier on with the US Army thru WWII and well into the next decade.

We don’t know too much about the history of VMMV’s M4A3, but what little we do know demonstrates how such vehicles can have a long and storied career. We don’t know when our M4A3 was built, or if it saw combat in WWII, but we do know it was purchased by Israel and sent to Canada. There it was modified for use as a test bed for the Israeli Super Sherman (Yes, VMMV has a Super Sherman too, so stay tuned to these spaces for an upcoming profile of that vehicle!)

Since the vehicle had no engine and the engine bay had been modified for the Super Sherman tests, VMMV staff and volunteers knew they had some work to do. We had to build completely new engine mounts from scratch…not a simple task when you are talking about being strong enough to handle 500 HP driving a 30 ton tank!

At the same time, VMMV’s skilled mechanics began preparing a GAA engine we had in stock. Although we didn’t have an M4A3 at the time we acquired the GAA, we never pass up the opportunity to put such a rare item into our spare parts bin. After a thorough checkout, we fired up the GAA and after a cough or two of smoke, she purred like a kitten.

After the successful test, VMMV began the delicate process of installing the GAA into our M4A3. Very carefully we swung the GAA up and into the Sherman’s engine bay. After much eyeballing and small adjustments, the GAA engine was carefully set down….a perfect fit. VMMV staff and volunteers quickly swarmed over the now complete M4A3 to connect the GAA to the tank…hose connections, fuel, oil etc. All were checked and re-checked.

Finally, the big day arrived….time to bring the armored beast to life. Mechanics gathered round with fingers crossed, but they had all done their work well. The GAA fired up and ran superbly, just like her predecessor in 1941. Applause broke out and smiles were in abundance as VMMV’s talented crew had breathed life into another historical relic.

Not only does VMMV’s M4A3 have an interesting history….she is also a movie star!!!! Look for her in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated movie “Flags of Our Fathers.” For that movie, we painted her with the designator “C41” and added wooden side armor, like many tanks sported in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

From the Files of VMMV......

In this section, we will examine historical records and files on armor in World War II from the perspective of the British liaison office to the US War Department. Some of this correspondence discusses the capabilities and performance of US armor, other files are the British view of German armor, reflecting their understanding of the technical capabilities of the panzers they faced. VMMV is proud to be the custodian of these historical treasures and wishes to thank Mr. Peter Upton for donating his father's war time papers.

These files represent the actual understanding of the Allies of German armored fighting vehicles and represent a critical link between the myths and propaganda of both sides and the post-war technical exploitation. Some of the data may be incorrect or missing, represent critical intelligence that was unknown to the Allies at the time. You the reader are presented with the data in raw form to allow you to see the ground truth of Allied intelligence.

In our tenth installment, we began examining documents on the German tank that present several documents associated with the Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausf. E or PzKw VI…more commonly known as the “Tiger.” The Tiger is synonymous with the Panzer Divisions and struck fear into the heart of Allied tankers during the course of WWII. Because of the large number of documents, we will break up the PzKw VI Ausf. E file over several newsletters.

Our first document is from 25 October 1943 and illustrates the Alllied understanding of the armor thickness of major structural components of the Tiger (right-hand column.) This is approximately one year after the introduction of the Tiger into service with the Panzer Arm of the Wehrmacht.

Next, we have blueprints showing the four main views of the Tiger. (CLICK ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Lastly for this portion of the data file, we have two incredible detail views of the internal layout of the Tiger tank.

VMMV Acronym

The lexicon of armored vehicles is filling with a bewildering amount of acronyms. And at VMMV we have a few of our own. Here we will have the VMMV word of the day so you may better understand the conversations you might overhear at the museum.

Cupola….The cupola is a small turret mounted on top of the main turret to allow the tank commander to survey the battlespace around his tank while under armored protection. This domed structure is used for observation and generally fitted with some form of armored vision device—such as bullet-resistant glass blocks in the form of periscopes or direct-view vision slits. There are many different types of cupolas, some have provisions for the mounting of a machine gun to allow the tank commander to defend his vehicle from ground and air threats.